A search for "photography competitions" yields thousands of results. Be careful which competitions you choose to enter however. There are scams out there where companies are setting up paid-entry competitions, that no one wins. I was involved with a scam where I'm pretty sure that every photographer was a winner. Once I was announced as a top finisher, I was sent an invoice to order the book that my "winning" photo was published in. The price was outrageous and it was 100% setup to scam clueless photographers. The company repeatedly e-mailed me invoices and said that my balance was due. After several e-mails back they finally gave up.
The best advice I have is to enter competitions where you are sure it is a credible company hosting it. Competitions hosted by camera, printer, or photography accessory companies are always a safe bet. Along with magazine related competitions hosted by well-known magazines.
One great advantage about many competitions, is that they generally do not request full image rights. They may run it in one magazine, and after that you are free to sell the image. Don't expect to earn a living off of competitions because they can be very opinionated towards certain photography styles or content. It's much more profitable to earn your money from repeat clients. Winning a big one may not buy you a house, but it can still earn you one great paycheck, and above that, a position within the top pros.
Whenever you place well in a competition, or earn some kind of title, add it to your biography. Buyers like to know that top art critics put your work above others. No competition is too small if you place well.
Between competitions, publishings, and sponsorship, you can make your way to the top of the industry and become a well-known and highly requested photographer. Never give up after not placing well. Make note of the style of photo that placed well, and you will know what type of image you should submit the following year. It's very tough to know what the judges are looking for the first time around, but reading the rules can offer a huge clue as to what will win.
Now is the time to get out there, show the world what you got, and become the next Joe McNally!
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